March 31, 2017 7:00 pm JST

Xi turns to diaspora to bolster global standing

Worldwide network of "hua qiao" helping realize Chinese Dream

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, meets Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to China in October. © AP

TOKYO -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has made no secret of his desire to see his country play a more prominent role on the global stage, and has found a number of friends and allies both inside and outside China.

Chinese communities overseas, or "hua qiao," have been an important source of political and financial support for Xi's ambitious policy agenda.

One high-profile hua qiao is Philippine real estate mogul Huang Rulung. The founder of global real estate developer Century Golden Resources Group is among the 50 richest people of Chinese heritage.

Huang may have played an important role in improving Beijing's strained ties with Manila.

In a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on July 27, the native of Fuzhou, Fujian Province, offered to fund the construction of two 10,000-bed drug rehabilitation centers in the Philippines as well as port facilities in the city of Davao, where Duterte had served as mayor.

Pleased with the billionaire's proposals, Duterte mentioned his own part-Chinese heritage; coincidentally his grandfather had emigrated from Fujian Province.

That moment set the stage for a thaw in a relationship which had soured over a maritime dispute in the South China Sea. The Philippines brought the case to an international tribunal in The Hague, which in July last year rejected Beijing's claims.

The pair apparently referred to each using the term "brother," according to another Chinese emigre from Fuzhou.

After leaving his humble background in China, Huang went on to make a fortune in the Philippines. In 1991, the year after Xi became the top party official in Fuzhou, the businessman returned home and supported Xi's efforts to promote the local economy through real estate development in the city.

In October 2016, Duterte visited China with some 250 business Philippine leaders, mainly of Chinese heritage. During his visit, the two countries struck a bilateral economic cooperation deal worth $24 billion. Duterte relaxed his stance toward the dispute and declared his country's "separation" from the United States.

The two countries seem to have forged a mutually beneficial set up involving Beijing's naval agenda and Duterte's efforts to root out drug crime and boost economic growth.

Shi Nai Kang, a prominent hua qiao in the Philippines and highly influential figure in the country's business community, has made no secret of where his allegiances lie by reportedly paying a visit to Xi's father's grave and pledging loyalty to the Chinese leader.

China's main platform to attract investment from the global Chinese community is Qiao Meng Yuan, a network of 13 special economic zones across the country.

In response to Xi's call for investment, some 3,500 companies belonging to Chinese overseas have expanded into the SEZ network. Total investment has been estimated at 300 billion yuan ($43 billion).

Zhuang Guotu, an expert on the Chinese diaspora, says it has always influenced the country's history. Xi wrote the preface for a book written by the researcher when he was a senior official in Fujian.

Sun Yat-sen, who played a key role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the lead up to the Xinhai Revolution, had grown up in Hawaii.

When foreign investment dropped after the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, many of the 60 million overseas Chinese came to the rescue.

Their combined assets are worth half of Japan's gross domestic product, according to one estimate.

Having largely consolidated power at home, Xi now has to figure out how to deal with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has shown a pro-Taiwan stance.

The Chinese community in the U.S. may have already got to work on helping the two forge a relationship. In late January, a joint ad by 100 Chinese companies appeared in New York's Times Square wishing Trump a happy new year. They included Fuzhou Airline, in which Huang has a stake.

(Nikkei)

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